Places Unnamed

We have been here before. To this place where if…then merges into when. Where directions that were written in a hypothetical voice deliver us to a destination meant for our imagination only.

But it exists. Edged as a precautionary tale of where one might find himself after years of thinking that his way was best. Arrived to only after paying with one’s health an expensive toll on the road of alcoholism.

I never made it into Swenny’s first appointment with his liver specialist. In response to his claim that I was worrying for no reason, I passed the time hula hooping at my company picnic. With every turn of the hoop, though, I thought about him as he answered the questions that I assumed were asked. About his drinking and his ability to stop. About the genetics of alcoholism, and whether he is predisposed. About his understanding of advanced liver disease. And its consequences.

As he wound his way out of the hospital’s parking ramp that afternoon, he called me. His recap was non-clinical and nonchalant. He has cirrhosis. The good kind. Every four months, he’ll meet with his doctor. And every six months, he’ll have an ultrasound to track the progress of his disease. Immediately, he needs an endoscopy.

A week later, he shared the full report. His doctor told him about the complications of advanced liver disease: ascites, bleeding varices, liver cancer.

“I could die from this,” he said.

And with that, he let me in.

To a new place. Where there is no longer room to play hide and seek with bottles. Where the only reaction to continued drinking is concern for his health. Where there is little left to lose. And where he will never attend another appointment alone.

I dreamed of this exact place without knowing it. ~ Patti Smith